I did three other stories about the river; all somewhat connected, the same river on the Oregon Coast, the people, the occurrences. This, I think, is the last.
Someone must see to it that this story is told: you shouldn't think that his man just threw his life away.
When he was a boy there was nothing about him to remember. He looked like anything else-like the trees, the other people, like his dog. Sometimes he would change places with the dog. For a week at a time he was the dog and the dog was himself, and it went unnoticed. It was harder on the dog, but the boy encouraged him and he did well at it.
This is what happened. The boy grew. Visions came to him. He began to see things. When he was eighteen he dreamed he should go up in the Crazy Mountains, near Bozeman, to dream. He went. He was careful hitchhiking, he took rides only from old men, old trucks. He was old enough to be careful, but not to know why.
He got a job down there around Beatty, in Oregon, and I didn't see him for two or three years. The next time was in winter. It was the coldest one I had ever been in. Birds froze. The river froze solid, all the way across. I never saw that before. I picked him up hitchhiking north, he had on dark cotton pants and a light jacket. He had a brown canvas bag, and a hat pulled down over his ears. I pulled over right away, he looked sorry as hell.
I took him way up north, all the way to my place. He had some antelope meat with him and we ate good. We talked. He wanted to know what I was doing for work. I was cutting wood. He was going to go up to British Columbia, Nanaimo, somewhere in there.
I woke up the next morning when it was just getting light. I could not hear the sound of the river and the silence frightened me until I remembered. I heard chopping on the ice. I got dressed and went down, the earth was like rock that winter.
He had cut a hole a few feet across, black water boiling up, flowing out of the ice, freezing. He was standing in the hole naked with his head bowed and his arms straight up over his head with his hands open. He had cut his arms with a knife and red blood was running down them, down his ribs, slowing in the cold to the black water. He gave a cry, the cry was like a bear, not a man sound, something he was tearing away from inside himself. He climbed out and ran into the timber, long high steps.
He cut wood with me that winter. He worked hard. When the trillium bloomed and the birds came he went north.
I did not see him again for ten years. I was in Montana harvesting wheat, sleeping in the back of my truck (parked under cottonwoods for the cool air that ran down them at night). One night I heard my name. He was by the tailgate.
"You got a good spot." He said
"Yeah. That you?"
How you doing?"
'Good. Talk in the morning."
He sounded tired, like he'd been riding all day.
We worked three weeks together,the next morning someone lost their job, too much drinking. We baled hay for days, the dust would gather in our clothes.
He came home with me, and he stayed that winter too. I was getting old then, and he was good to have around. In the spring he left. He told me a lot that winter, but I can't say these things. When he spoke it was like when you fall asleep in the woods, the breeze in the pines. You listen hard, but it's not easy.
A few summers later he was in Alaska, working at a farm in the Matanuska Valley. All that time he was alone. Once he came down to see me but I was gone. I knew it when I got home, I went down to the river and saw the place where he went into the water. The ground was soft around the rocks, I knew his feet.
I am not a man of power, but I waded into the river and shouted. "Keep going, you keep going!" My heart was pounding like the falls.
The last time I saw him he came to my house in the fall. He came in quiet as air sitting in a canyon. We made dinner early and at dusk he went out and I followed. He cut twigs from the ash, cottonwood and alder. He brushed me with the branches, telling me I had always been a good friend. He said this was his last time. We went swimming a little, there is a strong current there, I had to be careful.
I woke in the morning, just as light was seeping into the sky. I went to look at his bed, he was gone. I got dressed and walked the path to the falls. I see him all at once standing at the lip of the falls. I heard that bear-like cry, and his hands went out. He was in the air, turning over and over, the last moonlight finding the silver-white of his sides and dark green water before he cut into the river, the sound lost in the roar.
I went back up the path, to a clear-cut area where alders have started to grow. The sun was up, warm to me as I sat down, my back against the remaining fir. Good day to go look for morels, but I fell asleep.
When I awoke it was late. I went back to my truck and drove home, wondering if I felt strong enough to eat venison.